Understanding Covid-19 vaccinations and Long-covid

Understanding Covid-19 vaccinations and Long-covid

Covid-19 vaccinations and Long-covid

The Consolidated Directions on Occupational Health and Safety Measures in Certain Workplaces published on 11 June 2021 state employers should create awareness regarding aspects of the Covid-19 vaccines, used in the country, it’s contra-indications and side effects, for example severe allergic reactions.

What is a vaccine?

Vaccines are generally administered by an injection and help your body to build a natural defence (antibodies) against the specific infection, thus strengthening your immune system to recognise the virus and produce an immune response without causing illness.

All vaccines must go through extensive and rigorous testing to ensure they are safe before being introduced in the country. They also need to be approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA).

Nature of vaccines used in SA

The vaccines used in South Africa are sourced by the government, which determines which vaccines would be used based on the scientific data available at the time. As was previously established, not all vaccines are as effective against all the strains, as in the case of the AstraZeneca vaccine against the “501Y.V2” variant, which led the second wave in South Africa.

The Pfizer (mRNA) and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are currently used in South Africa. The Pfizer and other mRNA vaccines require two doses, whereas the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires a single dose.

It is recommended that people should wait 42 days between the first and second dose of mRNA vaccines, but evidence has indicated a greater degree of protection the longer the interval is between the two doses.

What are the benefits of vaccines?

As vaccines introduce your body’s immune response to the virus, should you contract the virus after getting vaccinated, your body’s immune response will be better prepared in fighting the virus after about 14 days. This means that your symptoms will not be as severe as when contracting the virus without the vaccination and it can also prevent death as a result of Covid-19.

We can reach herd immunity if most of the population receive the vaccine, which will make it very difficult for the virus to spread. Herd immunity occurs when the greater part of the population has been vaccinated. This makes it difficult for the virus to spread as most people would be immune.

What are the contra-indications for vaccinations?

Contra-indication describes why a specific vaccination should not be used due to symptoms, underlying reasons or situations. It is advisable to discuss any contra-indications of the Covid-19 vaccination with your medical healthcare worker.

What are the risks of any serious side effects?

It is normal for any medication or vaccination to have side effects, but these should subside within approximately three days. The mild symptoms of the Covid-19 vaccination include headaches, muscle and joint aches, fatigue, chills, mild fever and pain, redness and swelling at the injection site. Generally, after receiving the vaccine, you will be monitored for 15 minutes at the vaccination centre to make sure that you do not have an adverse reaction, such as anaphylaxis. The most adverse reaction publicised is vaccine-induced thrombosis and thrombocytopenia (VITT) but this is extremely rare. This reaction includes a stroke or bleeding and only occurs about 14 days after receiving the vaccine.

If you are unsure of anything regarding the Covid-19 vaccination and are considering whether you should take the vaccine, please contact your healthcare worker for more information.

What is Long-covid?

Long-covid or post-acute sequelae SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC) is a condition where you experience Covid-19 symptoms for an extended period. Long-covid is not related to the severity of symptoms that a person had during Covid-19 and research indicates that approximately 10% of people who contracted Covid-19 also develop long-covid.

Some symptoms of long-covid:

  • Brain fog
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of smell and taste
  • Coughing.

This poses an important question as to how employees who return to work and experience long-covid should be handled. Should these staff members be accommodated by gradually returning to work, i.e. doing half of the work, or should they be allocated more leave?

We do not yet know what implications this will have on various jobs, for instance a chef who cannot taste or smell for pro-longed periods. People are encouraged to be proactive and stop the virus from spreading by following protocols like wearing a mask and maintaining social distance, until we reach herd immunity.

Conclusion

Regardless of Mandatory Covid-19 vaccines in the workplace, South Africans should also consider various other factors, which would necessitate taking the Covid-19 vaccine:

  • Higher premiums for members of medical insurance companies who are not vaccinated.
  • Travel restrictions on airlines or to specific countries.
  • Wearing of masks at crowded events if you cannot prove that you were vaccinated.
  • The possibility of having long-covid after contracting Covid-19.
  • Prolonging the virus if we do not reach herd immunity.

Employers must have a valid and clear reason for implementing a mandatory Covid-19 vaccine policy in the workplace, which must also be fair and justified.

SERR Synergy has developed a Covid-19 Mandatory Vaccine Workplace Policy to provide assistance to employers in addressing aspects such as the application of and parties excluded from the directive; obligations of the employer and employee; employees suffering from side effects of the Covid-19 vaccine; confidentiality aspects; and disciplinary measures to be taken should an employee refuse to receive the mandatory Covid-19 vaccine. Our Labour Department can assist businesses to comply with the relevant legislation.

About the Author: Dina Korsten joined SERR Synergy in February 2020 as the HR Manager. She graduated from the University of Pretoria in 2011 with a BCom in Human Resources and in 2018 completed her BCom (Honours) in Industrial and Organisational Psychology.

Sources:

https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/vaccines-and-immunization-what-is-vaccination

https://www.gov.za/covid-19/vaccine/vaccine

https://www.gcis.gov.za/vaccine-guideline

https://www.webmd.com/lung/what-is-long-covid-pasc

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